Listen to Aretha: RESPECT

Respect and lessons from other languages.

When you studied Spanish, French or German, you learned there is a formal and informal degree of addressing another person. Generally, it’s best to use the formal — Usted, Vous or Sie — to be polite, especially at the start of the relationship.

When the other speaker indicates she is amenable to informal address, she will tell you to use Tú, Tu or Du.

As Aretha Franklin sang, from the other’s perspective, communication is about R E S P E C T.

Treat your clients and potential customers with respect — during every in-person and electronic interaction.

These people may soon pay your fees or be in a position to refer others to you. Lack of respect may cause a prospect to look away from you and turn instead to competitors for products and services.

Two recent emails from Public Relations industry professionals violated the norms of polite customer correspondence, reminding me that we all need to pay heed and reflect on the lessons from Aretha.

The first was a sales pitch that began: Hey Janet,.

When I replied to the sender, I mentioned my name was Janet and not Hey. I received a follow-up note, again: Hey Janet,.

I replied I was offended at twice being addressed Hey.

This complaint led to a prompt apology, which was accepted.

The subject line of the second email: DUDE. Seriously, OPEN my email already! (sic)

The Hey email was from a sales rep, who, with two years experience, should have known better.

The DUDE message was from a well-known senior Public Relations consultant with nearly 20 years experience.

Though this DUDE subject line is eye-catching, it is akin to the language of high school students and unlikely that an award-winning, college-level Public Relations instructor wrote it.

I responded that I found the subject line DUDE disrespectful. Surprisingly, the reply was by no means apologetic, but contrarian. According to this communications professional, if the use of DUDE or other terminology to which one personally does not relate is offensive, the recipient should unsubscribe.

Draw the Line
Where do you draw the line between informal and formal email correspondence with prospective customers and current clients?

This Month’s Tip

Do your colleagues treat your clients and prospects with respect? It’s polite to begin an email with Sidney, or Dear Leslie,. These forms of address acknowledge the virtual distance between the writer and the recipient and do not overstep the bounds the way that Hey Nicky, does. Write complete and grammatically correct sentences. Use restraint in tone, limit exclamation points and avoid emoticons. Finally, consider that the email might be forwarded to the CEO or another senior executive who has the final say-so on the buy decision.

You and your colleague worked very hard to get the reader’s attention; don’t let your email be discarded because it was disrespectful.


Are your coworkers speaking the same language as your potential clients and showing them appropriate respect? Contact me at, set an appointment here or call me at 212.677.5770. Let’s review your company’s standard emails in this light.

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